Most states require you to earn a juris doctor degree, abbreviated J.D., to practice law. To earn the degree, you must complete a legal course of study at an accredited law school. A juris doctor degree also may qualify you for a range of law enforcement careers, as well as careers in legal publishing and research.
Typically, it takes three years of study to complete a juris doctor degree program, although accelerated programs exist that shorten the course of study. The courses you take to earn the degree vary among law schools, but most will likely include constitutional, tax, contract and wills and trust law. You'll also take courses in criminal, civil and corporate law. Depending on the juris doctor program and your desired area of practice, you may be encouraged to specialize in a field that interests you, such as criminal law, environmental law, sports and entertainment law or civil rights law.
Some law schools are part of larger university systems, while others are stand-alone institutions. In the United States, you must have earned a bachelor's degree to attend law school. You also must take the Law School Admissions Test, commonly referred to as the LSAT. Generally, the more competitive the law school, the higher grade point average and LSAT scores you'll need to get in. Although law school rankings sometimes influence where students apply, the American Bar Association does not endorse the practice of ranking law schools, according to information published on the ABA's website. Still, your law school must be ABA accredited, and you must complete your J.D. course of study to sit for the bar exam.